Large signs around Las Vegas urge voters to “Take Back Your City” and “Recall the Mayor,” but the city’s top appointed officials says such a move would likely plunge City Hall into gridlock.
A recall effort is currently under way for Mayor Alfonso E. Ortiz Jr., with organizers gathering signatures to force the city to hold an election. As of last week, Lorenzo Flores, one of the organizers, said close to 700 signatures had been gathered. Under the recall rules established by the city charter, 937 signatures from registered city voters would be required to force an election.
Organizers have until late June to gather the necessary signatures, and if they are successful, the city will have to hold a special election. In order to remove Ortiz from office, the city charter mandates that more people vote to remove him than those voting to retain him. But it also mandates that the number of votes to recall Ortiz be equal to or exceed the number of votes Ortiz received when elected. Ortiz was elected during the April 17, 2012, runoff election with 1,413 votes.
City Manager Timothy Dodge, who was appointed by Ortiz, called the recall effort disruptive, and said it could end up setting the city back.
He noted that if Ortiz is recalled, Councilor Vince Howell, as mayor pro tem, would step into the role of acting mayor until a new mayor is elected. Dodge said Howell would still be able to vote. Many of the high profile votes in recent months have come down to 2-2 ties, with the mayor having to cast the deciding vote.
Without a fifth person to break ties, Dodge said, gridlock will likely take hold at City Hall, making it next to impossible to get things done. Dodge said something similar happened in Raton, and it has hurt that city, particularly when it has come to getting outside funding.
Indeed, Dodge views the recall provision in the city charter as antiquated. He said that to his knowledge, only eight New Mexico communities have it.
Dodge said recall provisions open the door for a minority population within the governing body who aren’t getting their way to use it as a tool to go on the offensive.
And he said that it can result in a never-ending cycle of recalls, where Ortiz’s replacement could then be subject to recall.
Dodge said he feels that the recall provision weakens city government and gives an easy tool “for disgruntled individuals to cause a whole lot of disruption.”
“I could see the next mayor wins, an opponent is not happy and starts a recall,” he added.
Dodge noted that Ortiz came out the top vote-getter during the regular city election in March 2012, and he came out on top during the runoff election in April 2012.
“The majority of people have spoken,” he said.
Dodge said another flaw he sees in the city charter is that it allows a city councilor with two years left on his or her term to run for the mayoral post without having to give up his or her council seat. He said that happened in Santa Rosa and the result was an adversarial relationship between the councilor who lost his bid to become mayor and the person who was elected mayor.
Something similar is playing out in Las Vegas, he said, with Councilwoman Tonita Gurule-Giron losing to Mayor Ortiz last year, resulting in an adversarial relationship between her and the mayor.
Dodge said some governing bodies elect a chairperson from within. Another option, he said, would be to require that a sitting city councilor give up his or her position in order to run for mayor.
Any such changes would have to be approved by city voters as amendments to the city charter.
Dodge said the recall system currently in place leads to dysfunction.
“It’s unfortunate to see a minority of people can be so disruptive with unfounded rumors ... and essentially lying to people,” Dodge said.
The recall petition cites four reasons for recalling Ortiz: “He has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for the rule of law, the process of democracy and the authority of Las Vegas’ governing body with his attempts to legislate by executive order, and to veto and otherwise reverse or override the decisions of the governing body. Because he has caused the city to enter into employment contracts with its directors in violation of the Las Vegas City Charter. Because his high-handed approach towards our acequias has resulted in failed negotiations, continuing gridlock and exorbitant legal fees.”
In an op ed piece published in the Optic May 6, Lee Einer, another organizer of the recall effort, outlined many reasons for wanting to recall Ortiz, alleging that the mayor has overridden Council decisions, contrary to the charter, that despite talking about our water woes he has done little to address them, except raise water rates, and that the west side of the city has been neglected.
“Ortiz has maintained support through the following principle: Keep the privileged, the vocal and the influential happy, and you can ignore the voiceless and the powerless,” Einer wrote. “The Seventh Street corridor looks lovely, and it is a relatively affluent neighborhood that largely supports Ortiz. But drive west past Montezuma Street, look around, and talk with the residents... Most streets don’t have sidewalks, many are unpaved, and some of the fire hydrants are reported to be non-functional...”
Flores has argued that Ortiz hasn’t done enough for the poor in this community.
Dodge said many unfounded allegations are being made.
He said that contrary to allegations, the city has invested in roads in the west side. In fact, he said that the city has undertaken more road projects in the last two years than at any time since City Public Works Direct Carlos Ortiz began working at the city more than 20 years ago.
He said the city has been providing summer jobs for the community’s youth. This year the city is planning to hire close to 180. The city has taken over the Senior Citizen Centers in Las Vegas, San Miguel and Pecos at a time when those centers were nearly bankrupt, he said.
Dodge said the city has also been working hard to improve the housing situation for low income people in the community.
As for the west side streets that Einer referred to in his Op Ed, Dodge said an engineering firm is working on the design for improving them. He added that, contrary to assertions being made, the majority of streets on the west side do have curbs and gutters and have been improved.
Dodge said the mayor has also helped many in the community through the annual Mayor’s Ball. The mayor has used money generated from that event for such things as providing meals to the poor and clothing for underprivileged kids.
But he said the criticism he hears the most is that Ortiz refused to sign the community rights ordinance, which seeks to prohibit oil and gas drilling but also attempts to roll back constitutional protections that have been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Council majority voted to approve the ordinance last year, but Ortiz has refused to sign it, saying that it is unconstitutional and violates the city charter.
Dodge said he is in the process of hiring Danelle Smith, a former city attorney, to provide a legal opinion on the ordinance. But he said he thinks it’s unfortunate that Einer didn’t go to court and ask a judge for an order mandating that Ortiz sign the ordinance. That would have put the issue to rest once and for all, he said.
As for the criticism that the mayor is improperly creating laws by executive order, Dodge said the Council has the authority to overturn any executive order, but so far has chosen not to do so.